An insight into the history of the broadside and the inspiration for Broadside Ballads
A broadside (also known as a broadsheet) is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. Broadside ballads, from the 16th to 20th centuries, contain words and images once displayed and sung daily in Britain’s streets and inns. Although part of living traditions of folksong, popular art and literature, these illustrated printed sheets are now rare and preserved in only a few libraries.
Digital collections and catalogues have improved access to these fragile survivors of popular culture in print. The Bodleian Libraries holds nearly 30,000 broadside ballads, many of them unique survivals, printed from the 16th to the 20th Centuries. Digital facsimiles and an online database were first made accessible in 1999. In 2013, the Libraries launched Broadside Ballads Online, which is a digital collection of the Bodleian’s broadside ballads together with links to digital collections at other libraries and institutions. ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk